Women's Lives in 'Goblin Market' by Christina Rossetti

The work Goblin Market is poetry composition chock full of unique perspectives and subtle societal commentary. Throughout the poem, Christina Rossetti includes various instances of literary comparison, insightful dialogue, and vivid imagery that contribute heavily to the characterization of Laura and Lizzie, the protagonists. In doing so, she effectively illustrates the highly prevalent feminine social norms of the time period denoting women as fragile objects and beacons of masculine desire, as well as how such norms are intrinsically portrayed through the thoughts and mannerisms of both girls and rejected by one of them.

Rossetti wastes no time in establishing gender roles through her writing. Early on in the poem, she describes Laura and Lizzie’s reactions to the temptation of the goblins using the phrases “Laura bowed her head” and “Lizzie veiled her blushes”. These individual mannerisms show that both Laura and Lizzie’s initial instincts upon being met with the temptation of men are to act in a shy and passive manner rather than an assertive one. Such instinctual mannerisms are further exemplified through the spoken dialogue: “We must not look at goblin men, we must not buy their fruits”. Again, Lizzie and Laura resort to hiding in an effort to protect their feminine innocence, repeatedly reminding themselves of their obligation. Both instances illustrate the overwhelmingly subduing effect on the mindsets of women patriarchal society had established at the time, and how women were expected to protect their modesty and hide when met with unfavorable circumstances in accordance with the weak predetermined feminine roles demanded of them.

In a later stage in the poem, Rossetti links female objectification with the previous notion of modesty. The goblins goad Laura into paying them for their sweet fruit with a golden lock of her hair. As the girls do not have money, Laura herself becomes the valuable object of wealth and desire in the exchange. This illustrates the common practice of objectifying women that not only was prevalent at the time Goblin Market was written, but has endured through the centuries and it practiced today as well. Furthermore, Laura sheds a “tear more rare than pearl” when her hair is cut, showing her obvious attachment to her physical attributes. This attachment is the result of the social norms established that encouraged women to gauge their worth in terms of appearance and physique, prompting women to then attribute their identities solely to what their physical appearance could offer to men, in terms of beauty, ability to bear children, and sensual appeal. In this way, female objectification not only became a prevalent practice, but an accepted and even falsely gratifying one as well, contributing more to the weak feminine roles of the era.

Finally, in accordance with modesty and objectification, Rossetti draws a connection between the feminine identity and domestic work. Rossetti describes Laura and Lizzie as “Neat like bees, as sweet and busy…Fetched in honey, milked the cows…Talked as modest maidens should”. This description correlates feminine roles with feminine identity, as Laura and Lizzie’s genders are represented in the form of actions and tasks. Furthermore, the significance of this set of descriptions concerns the fact that the poem includes a description of only the women’s actions, rather than their conversation. This representation denotes such maid-like roles as strict feminine standards imposed by society at the time.

Despite all these obligations, Laura’s rejection of the feminine stereotype comes in the form of “a vessel at the launch when its last restraint is gone” as Rossetti describes her character. A vessel at launch generally signifies a powerful entity, “restraint is gone” establishing that Laura’s current actions and demeanor contrast with her role as a woman. Therefore, Laura’s decision to eat the goblins’ fruit is portrayed effectively as a rejection of her femininity, in terms of its societal role-induced significance.

Christina Rossetti’s use of dialogue, literary comparison, and imagery in accordance with the mannerisms and speech of Lizzie and Laura effectively constructs an accurate representation of the feminine standard meant to be upheld by both girls in the face of the goblins’ temptation. This depiction of the two main characters in the poem acts as social commentary, and illustrates the predominant feminine standards of modesty, accepted objectification, and domesticity. Such a portrayal characterizes the feminine role in society at the time as a maid, weak and subdued by male influence. Laura’s rejection of said standards showcases Rossetti’s personal opinions upon the matter, that women should not be confined to fragile demeanors. In creating this contrast, Rossetti introduces new concepts concerning the early roots of feminism, and allows for the Goblin Market to serve as a direct contrast between new and conventional ideologies.

07 July 2022
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